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Deal Would Allow Activist To Leave China


In Beijing, U.S. officials have been working feverishly to end a diplomatic crisis, one that erupted just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived this week for previously scheduled talks with the Chinese on economic and security issues. The two countries disagreed over the fate of human rights activist Chen Guangcheng. After a lot of tension and diplomatic wrangling, it now appears the dissident, who spent nearly a week inside the U.S. embassy, will be allowed to travel abroad. Secretary of State Clinton spoke earlier today to reporters in Beijing.

HILLARY CLINTON: Over the course of the day, progress has been made to help him have the future that he wants. And we will be staying in touch with him as this process moves forward.

GREENE: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary of state. Michele, hello.


GREENE: First of all, Michele, U.S. officials have long complained about how this man, Chen Guangcheng, and other human rights activists are treated in China. This case comes to a head this week. And I mean, are we close to a resolution here? What more has to happen before he can leave China?

KELEMEN: Well, mainly he needs to get a passport, both for him and for his family. And the State Department is telling us that the Chinese government has indicated that it will accept his application and the U.S. expects that this is going to be done expeditiously. That doesn't mean before the secretary takes off tomorrow. But - and officials won't really say when this is going to happen. This is a really delicate issue here.

They've avoided speaking in public very much about this. I mean during the past couple of days, Secretary Clinton has been attending the strategic and economic dialogue. And when she has spoken in public alongside Chinese officials, her comments on human rights were always very carefully worded. She even skipped over parts that were a bit tough on China.

So there is this sense that they didn't want to push too hard in public on this. They're working behind the scenes to get these last little elements in place to let this guy get out.

GREENE: Well, Michele, one thing we heard Secretary Clinton say there in that clip is that they want to give this human rights activist the future that he wants. What he has seemed to want has changed. Initially he said he was planning to stay in China. Then he said he wanted to go to the United States. I mean what accounts for this change of heart?

KELEMEN: It's something that U.S. officials have been grappling with all week, is, well, they say that what they've done, all their efforts have been guided by Chen's choices, that during the time he was in the embassy he told them that what he wanted was to stay in China and study law, and those were the arrangements that they say they negotiated for him.

When he left the embassy, he was reunited with his family - his wife, a daughter and the son he hadn't seen in years. By the way, we're told it was his son's birthday today. So this was a very emotional reunion. He also started hearing troubling reports about what's happening to his family back home in his provincial city, and there's been this crackdown on people who helped him escape.

So obviously he started fearing for his safety and U.S. officials say he just had a change of heart.

GREENE: As you know, the Obama administration has come under some criticism for not getting enough assurances from the Chinese government that they were going to guarantee his safety once he left the U.S. embassy. I'm wondering if U.S. diplomats are confident now in what they're hearing from their Chinese counterparts, that they'll follow up and keep this new deal.

KELEMEN: One official told us that there's a high degree of confidence. Clearly there have been differences this week over, you know, even just the question of access to Chen. So still officials tonight were saying that they believe Chinese authorities did follow up on the arrangements that they had originally negotiated and did take the time even to hear out Chen's concerns about the abuses back home in his province where he was held under arrest before his dramatic escape last week.

So you know, they're saying that the Chinese did follow through and they're confident that they will now.

GREENE: Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

GREENE: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen, who's travelling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Beijing and following this still unfolding diplomatic story surrounding the case of Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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